London Philharmonic/Alsop – Kodály & Dvořák – Lukáš Vondráček plays Chopin

Concerto for Orchestra
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

Lukáš Vondráček (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Marin Alsop

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 10 February, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Marin Alsop. ©Grant LeightonBack within the space of two days (after her “Czech Liszt” marathon on Wednesday with Stephen Hough), Marin Alsop stuck with an Eastern European combo, this time adding Hungarian Kodály and Polish Chopin to a Dvořák symphony, this time the Seventh.

This was a concert that demonstrated the transporting power of music. The strident opening bars of Kodály’s Concerto for Orchestra shook me free from the tiredness of a long week. I was immediately engaged and gripped by Alsop’s energetic grip on the music, through its various sections, including a passacaglia returning to the opening motifs to end. Thrilling! I wondered if Kodály had specifically composed such a rhythmic opening salvo because of the Chicago Symphony’s reputation (the commissioner, for its 50th-birthday) and was intrigued to read that Bartók, escaping to America, acted as courier for the score!

Lukáš Vondráček. Photograph: Susan WilsonMy expectations were further confounded during the Chopin. The lengthy orchestral introduction was fabulously moulded by Alsop and then matched by a crystalline rendition of the solo part by young Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček, belying his broad stature with digital finesse. It wasn’t a completely straight rendition: Alsop had to keep her wits about her (and the orchestra with her) in Vondráček’s indulgencies in the ‘Romanza’, but the result was a fresh, alive and welcome performance of what can all-too-easily come across as bombastic. Even someone dropping a heavy object just a microsecond after the close of the slow movement couldn’t destroy the mood. Vondráček won a deserved ovation, which he repaid with a change-of-mood encore: a virtuosic transcription more in the mould of finger-crunching Bartók.

Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony was composed for the London Philharmonic Society. Alsop was even more in her element and whipped the LPO players into a frenzy, alert to every turn of tempo and Dvořák’s melodic profligacy. The horn solo in the second movement typified the quality of the whole (and mention must be made of top-notch contributions of the third and fourth horns too).

As all good concerts should, this one sent me out into the night with a much-changed mood. And an impatience for Alsop’s programmes next year with the LPO – American-themed as part of “The Rest is Noise”.

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